An English identity?

Jeremy Black looks at the past, and future, of British and national identity.

At present there is a scholarly emphasis in fashionable circles on the extent to which all communities are imaginary and, more particularly, on the definition of a nation as an imagined political community. As with much historical writing, this is largely a matter of stating the obvious, or rather of disguising it with a new vocabulary.

Fuelled by the devolution debate, this argument has been repeatedly applied to Britain. It is readily apparent that, as a political entity, Britain was in large part created, and that this creation owed much to the formulation and dissemination of new images. Where though does this leave England and the English? How are they supposed to respond to growing calls for Scottish independence? Is their identity to be sought in regional assemblies and European Union, and is there anything in between?

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